- George Bennett Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
State Sen. Jeff Clemens of Atlantis, in line to become Democratic leader in the Florida Senate next year, abruptly resigned on Friday after Politico reported he had an extramarital affair with a lobbyist.
“I have made mistakes I (am) ashamed of, and for the past six months I have been focused on becoming a better person. But it is clear to me that task is impossible to finish while in elected office. The process won’t allow it, and the people of Florida deserve better. All women deserve respect, and by my actions, I feel I have failed that standard. I have to do better,” Clemens said in a statement released shortly after 5 p.m.
He emailed a shorter statement to Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, at 5:08 p.m: “Please consider this email as my resignation from the Florida Senate.”
Clemens said his resignation was effective immediately. Under state law, Gov. Rick Scott must set the date for a special election to fill Clemens’ seat.
“It is clear to me Senator Clemens made a decision he feels is best for both his family and his constituents,” Negron said.
In his public statement, Clemens said: “Though they have been aware for some time now, I apologize again to my wife, my family and anyone and everyone that I have treated poorly in the past for putting you through this in such a public way. I will continue the therapy I began months ago, will seek to personally apologize to anyone I have wronged while seeking forgiveness, and will spend my time being a better husband and father.”
The resignation came less than 24 hours after Clemens sent an email apologizing to Senate Democrats on Thursday night as Politico was preparing to report that Clemens had an affair with lobbyist Devon West. West worked for the Martin County government and now works for Broward County’s lobbying office. Efforts to reach her on Friday were unsuccessful.
“I take full responsibility for my behavior, and I apologize for bringing any embarrassment to the Caucus,” Clemens said in the Thursday night email to his colleagues. “I have spent much of the past six months going to therapy, strengthening my relationship with my wife and my kids, and trying to be a better human being. I still have quite a ways to go. But I am unwavering in my resolve to get there.”
Politico reported that when the affair disintegrated in the spring, West had Clemens’ laptop computer and Clemens asked Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, to help him retrieve it.
Latvala, a 2018 candidate for governor, would not specifically address the Politico report but said: “As the old man of the Senate, I get asked for help by my colleagues and those involved in the process from to time and I try to be helpful when I can. I don’t talk about my private conversations with my colleagues.”
Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, D-Miami, confirmed that he ended up retrieving Clemens’ laptop after West left it at the concierge desk of her condo building for Braynon to pick up.
Senate Democrats selected Clemens to become their leader after the November 2018 elections. That put Clemens in charge of candidate recruitment and fundraising for Democratic efforts to chip away at Republican control of the chamber.
Clemens enjoyed some success in the role, helping Democrat Annette Taddeo win a special Senate election in Miami last month in a district that had been held by the GOP. Republicans still hold a 24-16 advantage in the Senate.
Clemens, 47, was mayor of Lake Worth from 2007 to 2009. He was elected to the state House in 2010 and to the Senate in 2012 after winning a Democratic primary by 17 votes over fellow state Rep. Mack Bernard, who is now a Palm Beach County commissioner.